Nor­we­gian nov­el­ist and former jus­tice min­is­ter Anne Holt on Nordic Noir and her new TV drama.


The Nor­we­gian nov­el­ist on Nordic Noir, TV adap­ta­tions and Agatha Christie

I’m a great be­liever in the univer­sal­ity of the crime genre. I’m con­vinced that crime fic­tion’s tremen­dous pop­u­lar­ity in many parts of the world, de­spite the great di­ver­sity and variation in the field, is be­cause it deals in uni­ver­sal themes. Crime fic­tion is cur­rently the genre that most acutely ex­plores the great and eter­nal – one could even say bib­li­cal – is­sues: guilt, atone­ment, pun­ish­ment, re­spon­si­bil­ity. Thus, it does not mat­ter what coun­try or re­gion a writer such as my­self comes from.

“I’m aware that I’m part of the Nordic Noir tra­di­tion. Few crime writ­ers in Scan­di­navia to­day can evade affin­ity with Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote their Martin Beck se­ries be­tween 1965 and 1975. That duo in many ways founded what is now called the so­cially crit­i­cal Scan­di­na­vian crime novel. But I write about peo­ple, not about Scan­di­navia.

“I’m re­ally pleased by the TV crime show based on my work, Modus. I found it easy to re­lin­quish con­trol (which you re­ally have to do) – mainly be­cause it was quickly clear to me how lov­ingly it was be­ing han­dled. Cast­ing? A dream. And – ic­ing on the cake – the sec­ond sea­son is shap­ing up to be even bet­ter than the first.

“I am less con­cerned about ‘who did it?’ and far more con­cerned with ‘why the hell did this hap­pen?’ In most of my books, the psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pects of crime are cen­tral. Hu­man psy­chol­ogy might roughly be di­vided into two cat­e­gories: the uni­ver­sally hu­man that is ba­sic for each in­di­vid­ual, re­gard­less of where you come from; and the at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour pat­terns that re­flect the com­mu­nity you are a part of. In this re­gard, it is most im­por­tant for me to tell a strong, con­sis­tent story with cred­i­ble char­ac­ters.

“I am a po­lit­i­cal per­son, not a po­lit­i­cal writer. I would never at­tempt to present facile po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions in my books. Since a crime can­not fully be ex­plained with­out also truth­fully de­pict­ing the so­ci­ety in which it oc­curs, I hope that I nonethe­less raise im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal is­sues. I’m sure the read­ers will pre­fer to dis­cover the an­swers for them­selves.

“If I had to choose three of my own ti­tles that have been sig­nif­i­cant for me, I might start with Death Of The De­mon, be­cause in that novel I ad­dressed for the first time the prob­lem of ne­glected chil­dren on a se­ri­ous ba­sis; my snow­bound mys­tery, 1222, be­cause it is in many ways a lit­er­ary ex­per­i­ment; and Fear Not [the ba­sis of Modus], as I feel it is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant book I have writ­ten.

“Agatha Christie re­mains a key in­flu­ence on me. I read all the books when I was a girl, and I was re­ally happy when I was able to do a di­rect Christie homage with 1222; I en­joyed fea­tur­ing a Christie-style se­cluded set­ting, and even a Poirot-type ‘gather all the sus­pects to­gether’ scene! I read sev­eral of the Christies again re­cently, and was pleased that I’d for­got­ten what hap­pened – she gripped me all over again.”

Marek Oravec as Richard For­rester in Modus, the next big BBC4 Nordic Noir.

Modus Se­ries 1 will air on BBC4 later this year, Fear Not (Corvus) is out now.

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